From the Podium

by LYO Music Director, Doug Elmore

Recently, in a span of forty-eight hours or so, I was witness to three large musical ensemble events.

 

The first of the groups was arguably one of the most famous, skilled, well-resourced big bands of all time.

 

The next was a locally-based big band with a revolving door of personnel over five decades, gathered together to pay tribute to a truly remarkable man—a man whose love of music and of musicians created a legacy that will be remembered for a very long time.

 

The last, and probably the closest to my heart, was a gang of eighth graders—the Highland Hills Middle School Orchestra, who gave a concert in preparation for their upcoming adjudication.

 

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I watched the first from the audience; I performed with the second; and I was the conductor for the third.

 

The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played an evening concert at Whitney Hall last night. A brilliant ensemble packed with world-class instrumentalists and arrangers, the group had dazzling proficiency, and a wonderful variety of selections.

 

The next day, I split from school early and rushed it over to a VFW Hall in Louisville to play my double bass in a big band at the memorial for Mr. Don Krekel, the founder and leader of "The Don Krekel Orchestra" for over fifty years.

 

The hall was packed—mostly with musicians, it seemed—and we gave Don a send-off he would have loved. The band played four short sets of tunes, interspersed with folks telling stories about the man in his different roles in life. I honestly don't know which tribute was the more poignant—the stories, which were rich in loving detail and humor, or the band, jam-packed with many of the region's finest jazzers, and many others waiting to have their turn! The music was rowdy, swinging, and from the deepest parts of the heart.

 

Don Krekel actually changed my life by hiring me into his band back in the 1980's when NOBODY was calling me. And his gigs were incredibly nurturing—truly a mentoring experience.

 

During that memorial, I cried twice: once during one of many spoken tributes, and again when the band roared through "In the Mood," a shop-worn standard on some nights, but today, a raucous salute by some fine players to a man who loved music and musicians. As I thumped through the bass line and the band blasted out the final tutti, tears welled up as I thought of the connections Don forged among us over the years. As we packed up to leave, the goodbyes were more of a goodbye to Don than to the other guys (whom I'm pretty sure I'll see again soon).

Finally, I shot over to Highland Hills Middle School for an orchestra concert.The kids came scrambling in from home, swim meets, music lessons, etc. We tuned up, and they hit the stage.

 

There are few things as emotionally charged as performing with musicians who "mean business" and tonight, the HHMS eighth graders meant business. When they played the Bizet’s Farandole, the ferocity of their commitment yanked the audience right onto the stage with them. As the first violins slashed into the energetic passagework, there was a moment when the demands of the music could have threatened to get away from them. Not this time. The kids physically "leaned into" the music, and locked it down. I could feel the intentionality, connection, and passion in their playing. To hear, see, and be a participant in such gloriously passionate playing is...everything I ever hoped it would be.

 

Music magnifies the mystical forces that bring us together as people. It is, as my old principal John Marsh used to say, "one of the things that makes us more human." I experienced this more than once day. I dearly hope I experience it again soon.

 

By the way, that day was also my 58th birthday. I got to spend it doing things that are big, beautiful, and greater than me.

 

There are far worse ways to spend a birthday, and few better.